Amilcar Cabral in the Contemporary Context: The “Struggle Against Our Own Weaknesses”
By Dr. Ron Daniels, President, Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer, York College, City University of New York, USAFirst, to the Honorable Pedro Pires, former distinguished President of Cape Verde and President of the Amilcar Cabral Foundation, Officials of Government, Officials of the Foundation and assembled Speakers and Panelists, I consider it a great honor and privilege to be afforded an opportunity to share a few ideas on the relevance of the thought and theory of Amilcar Cabral in the contemporary context on the occasion of the Commemoration of his 90th Birthday.
Second, it is important to state that I do not approach this subject with the pretense of being a theoretician or expert on the work of our beloved late leader, but as a veteran scholar/activist and practicing Pan Africanist whose life’s work has been influenced by the thought, theory and praxis of Amilcar Cabral. Indeed, I count it as one of the greatest honors of my life to have been present for Cabral’s lecture at Lincoln University in the U.S., a historically Black institution of higher learning, in 1972; a Special Lecture which I believe was later included in his book Return to the Source. In fact a number of notable Pan Africanist leaders were present at this historic gathering – which was a testament to the enormous influence of Cabral on the Black Liberation Movement in the USA in this period.
There is no question that Frantz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, Julius K. Nyerere and C.L.R. James had a major impact on the evolution and development of the Black Liberation Movement. However, Cabral held a special place in the hearts and minds of scholars, activists and organizers in the U.S. This was because of his clarity of analysis on the mode of productive forces as the motive force of history – an insight which challenged Marxist orthodoxy in light of Cabral’s careful study of the evolution of pre-industrial societies in Africa. By so doing, he demonstrated a willingness to examine theories of revolution from what we today would call an African centered lens. Cabral’s vision of the nature of National Revolution and National Liberation, and the unique role of the petite bourgeoisie in the liberation struggle were also widely accepted as instructive.
Moreover, our study of Cabral was not abstract; it coincided with the organizing of African Liberation Day, May 25, 1972, which witnessed the most massive mobilization of Africans in the Americas in support of Africa since the era of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Thousands of Africans in the Americas marched and rallied in the streets of Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Toronto, Canada and St. George’s, Grenada in the Caribbean in support of Liberation Movements in Namibia (Southwest Africa), Angola, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) and of course, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. This mobilizing/organizing continued under the auspices of African Liberation Support Committees in cities throughout the Americas well into the 70s. Personally, I was attracted to Cabral because he emphasized the need to examine internal contradictions and weaknesses in addition to focusing on the primary contradiction of external domination.
As we gathered at Lincoln University in 1972 to hear the words of our esteemed mentor Amilcar Cabral, it was with the hope that the “liberation” of the remaining European colonies in the motherland would set the stage for Africa to seize control of its vast resources to improve the quality of life of the African masses. There was also the hope that a liberated Africa would fulfill Garvey’s vision as the base for global empowerment of Africans everywhere. Unfortunately, as we gather at this momentous conference in memory of Cabral, it is crystal clear that this hope has largely gone unrealized. The incredible wealth of what Du Bois called the richest continent on the face of the earth has yet to be harnessed in a meaningful way to uplift the lives of the majority of peasants, workers and the impoverished in most African nations. Exchanging Black faces for White faces at the helm of governance, as an outcome of the anti-colonial struggles, has not led to the promise of the “good life” for the African masses. Instead, what we find is the troubling phenomenon of self-serving, self-aggrandizing “leaders for life” presiding over corrupt bureaucracies that enrich themselves while the majority of the people struggle to eke out a meager existence. In the midst of fabulous wealth and resources the masses continue to suffer.
With the complicity of these self-aggrandizing elites, we are witnessing what might be termed a new “scramble for Africa” as resource starved industrial nations vie for a share of the continent’s mineral and agricultural resources at bargain prices. As long as the “leaders” get a piece for themselves, the attitude seems to be “the nation and people be damned!” This phenomenon and attitude are illustrative of the absence of the kind of moral and ethical leadership desperately needed to fulfill Africa’s potential to become the model of a just and humane global power. Obviously, this characterization does not apply to every African leader or nation. However, it is far too commonplace. Even in those rare instances where there is genuine democratic governance and well meaning leadership, external control over the wealth and resources of the nation remains a barrier to achieving broad based economic security for the masses. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
It is against this background and contemporary context that the thought and theory of Amilcar Cabral must be examined. And, I think we can state without fear of contradiction that his teachings are as relevant today as they were four decades ago, perhaps even more so since there are no longer colonies on the continent. So, let us begin this examination with words from the master teacher himself:
“We are not fighting simply in order to hoist a flag in our countries and to have a national anthem. We are fighting so that insults no longer rule our countries, martyred and scorned for centuries, so that our peoples may never more be exploited by imperialists – not only Europeans, not only people with a white skin, because we do not confuse exploitation or exploiters with the color of men’s skin; we do not want any exploitation in our countries, not even by black people…”
Forty years after his martyrdom this message it would appear to be lost on many African leaders and those who aspire to become part of the ruling element of “independent” African nations. Therefore, a brief refresher course is in order. It is interesting to note that Fanon and Cabral, two of our most preeminent revolutionary theorists, were emphatic about the ultimate goal of anti-colonial struggles. Fanon made a distinction between “national liberation” and national reconstruction.” National liberation was the task of freeing the subject territory from colonial domination and the establishment of the nation-state – replacing the colonial administration and colonial administrators with a structure of governance controlled by the formerly subject/dominated people. On the other hand, national reconstruction is the total “decolonization” of the socio-economic institutions as the basis for creating a new society rooted in the history and culture of African people. Using slightly different terminology, Cabral posits the same conclusion. For him “national revolution” is the stage where the anti-colonial forces achieve independence from direct control of the colonizer/imperialist power. But, this is only first stage in a longer process of “national liberation” where the goal is to regain total control of the productive forces of society as the indispensible pre-condition for creating the new man and woman and new society; a society where the productive forces are in the hands of and in the service of the people!
This brings us to another important aspect of Cabral’s teachings that is relevant in the contemporary context; the reality of what Nkrumah called neo-colonialism as the “last stage of imperialism.” I reference Nkrumah because Cabral put forth precisely the same proposition – that the indirect control/influence of the former colonial powers or external interests over the productive forces of “independent” African nations poses the final and perhaps most difficult barrier to genuine national liberation. This reality is exacerbated or made more complex by the collaboration of the emerging indigenous bourgeoisie which ties its aspirations for “success” to the largess of external powers. In effect the process of national liberation is stymied by forces that are able to maintain a sufficient degree of indirect power/influence to meet their economic and political needs/interests. This is accomplished with the collaboration/cooperation of the ruling elites of independent African nations. Now those who thirst for authentic national liberation must not only contend with the power of external imperialists but the power of elites entrenched within the structures and institutions of the “independent” state – entrenched elites who either willingly collaborate with the neo-colonial oppressors or unwittingly do so because they have confused national revolution with national liberation. In any event the process of national liberation, as Cabral envisioned it, is essentially suspended.
As we might expect, Cabral was not unaware of this possibility. He knew that this scenario, the one which is so prevalent in Africa today, would poise a formidable challenge to overcome. In his initial exhortation that revolutionaries must struggle against weaknesses, he was primarily concerned with the lack of theoretical understanding of the productive forces and their elaboration as the motive force of history. While he was aware of the need to rigorously assess factors like culture and the patterns of life of various ethnic groups, he felt that the failure to grasp the importance of the state of the productive forces, particularly class dynamics internal and external to society, was a weakness that could be fatal to the cause. In that regard, he foresaw the emergence of a pseudo or actual native bourgeoisie as a contradiction blocking the path to national liberation; a bourgeoisie which lacked the vision, understanding or moral/ethical commitment to complete that task.
In the face of this complex contradiction, Cabral was unwilling to abandon the vision/mission/goal of national liberation. To do so would be to betray the aspirations of ancestors who suffered bled and died under colonial domination by acquiescing to or perpetuating systems of exploitation and oppression under rulers with a darker complexion. Despite this perplexing contradiction, Cabral was confident that transformative change was possible. However, the source of the spark for this change would be found in a seemingly unlikely place, the petty bourgeoisie – intellectuals, students, doctors, lawyers, artists who have the leisure to see the limiting effects of neo-colonial domination and the internal neo-colonial mentality that fosters willing and unwitting collaborators. It is the conscious elements of the petty bourgeoisie which must forego the natural tendency to join the bourgeoisie, to lead the struggle for national liberation. As Cabral put it, there are some within the petty bourgeoisie that have the courage to “commit class suicide” to fulfill the vision/mission/goal of national liberation. He cautions, however, that while the petty bourgeoisie may spark the struggle, it does not have a direct relationship with the productive forces or the mode of production necessary to ultimately achieve success. It is the workers and peasants, the laboring class which has the capacity to directly impact the land, property and vital resources over which the imperialists and their collaborators seek to maintain control. Hence, Cabral’s message is that it will be an alliance between conscious elements of the petty bourgeoisie and the laboring class that will unblock the path to national liberation. The fate of the “final revolution” is in their hands!
As I stated from the outset, clearly the task of achieving national liberation, the final revolution is incomplete. And, if we are to meet the challenge of finishing this unfulfilled objective, we must think in terms of how to apply Amilcar’s thought and theory in the contemporary context. My sense is that across the continent and throughout the Pan African world there are a multitude of intellectuals, students, artists, educators, doctors, lawyers, peasants, workers and ordinary citizens who are utterly disgruntled and disgusted with the state of affairs in Africa. There is a basic awareness of the huge gulf between the riches and resources of the continent and the impoverished quality of life for the African masses. There is an awareness that in far too many nations authoritarian leadership, dysfunctional or corrupt governance, and self-serving business/economic elites have betrayed the aspirations of the masses for national liberation – the creation of socio-economic and political structures, institutions, systems that serve the interests of the people based on what I choose to call principles of African humanism.
However, as I am certain Cabral would advise, bemoaning the current situation without action is not a solution. To succumb to apathy and inaction is simply to surrender to and perpetuate the conditions we bemoan. The solution is to act. I would suggest that the very first step in the process is for aspiring reformers and revolutionaries is to reexamine the thought and theory of Cabral and utilize it as a framework and guide for devising strategies and tactics to ignite the struggle for fundamental change. Cabral noted that the task of challenging and contesting the internal structures of neo-colonialism and misrule is not the work of heroic individuals. It requires clusters of individuals working collectively in units. He called for “the creation of a firmly united vanguard, conscious of the objective of the national liberation struggle it must lead.” It is from these conscious clusters that we might expect the moral and ethical leadership to emerge which is woefully lacking on the continent today.
So, the training/education of these conscious clusters is crucial. Indeed, I would further suggest that current circumstances require a transnational network of these conscious clusters that are interacting, sharing information/analysis and learning from each other as they advance a broad-based line of struggle for national liberation. One of the most important tasks for these conscious clusters is to devise and implement campaigns of popular education that crystallize the people’s understanding of the difference between national revolution and national liberation. There is a need for what Malcolm X might call a “message to the grassroots.” The energy and action of the people, particularly the laboring classes is needed to make the change that will transform societies and the quality of life of the people. Popular education is the key to galvanizing the masses across sectors to create a new society. The Cabral Foundation and similar formations can certainly take the lead in training/educating the conscious clusters that must lead the charge for national liberation in this era. I conclude this presentation with a question I have avoided thus far but which must be addressed If we are to effectively launch a new movement for national liberation at this juncture in history — What is the nature of national liberation in the contemporary context? Certainly we have learned from Fanon and Cabral that national liberation is the total “decolonization” of the systems of imperialist domination by regaining control of the productive forces as well as the social, cultural and educational institutions of society. However, while accepting these theoretical propositions, I believe there are some immediate practical questions which demand vigorous analysis, debate and discussion:
• What are the principles of “revolutionary” governance in this post-colonial, neo-colonial era? What role do political parties, popular organizations and concepts of human rights play within revolutionary societies? And, what is the nature and role of “leadership” e.g., individual, collective, perpetual or limited?
• Similarly what are the principles of “democratic” governance? In addition to the questions poised under revolutionary governance, we must ask how effective is the Parliamentary system as a model of governance in diverse, multi-ethnic societies? Is the “winner take all” approach compatible to the goal of building a unified society comprised of diverse ethnicities? Should we be exploring models which structurally include all sectors of society including various ethnic groups?
• If regaining control over the productive forces is the indispensable ingredient for national liberation, shouldn’t there be clearly articulated criteria and standards for foreign investment that ensure equitable, just and fair exchange of value such that Africa’s wealth and resources ultimately benefit the many and not just a few in African nations?
These are questions that the Institute of the Black World 21st Century has begun to address through the Pan African Unity Dialogue we convene on a quarterly basis in New York. In some measure they were also addressed at the recent State of the Black World Conference convened by IBW at Howard University in Washington, D.C. They are perplexing/difficult questions which must be addressed if Pan Africanists are to advance an agenda for national liberation in the 21st century. Parenthetically, I might add that the discussion of national revolution vs. national liberation and the questions posed above are not just relevant to the continent. In a recent trip to the Caribbean, I found veteran activists and organizers grappling with the same phenomena and questions. Moreover, in the U.S. we are also assessing the degree to which the incorporation of Blacks into the political and economic structures and institutions of a Capitalist political-economy, with an African American President at the helm, constitutes the ultimate in terms of the quest for the creation of a just and humane society. The obvious difference is that in the U.S. we do not have state power. Generally speaking, most progressives feel that advancing a politics of social transformation remains the crucial mission of the Black Liberation Movement in the U.S. Nonetheless, these questions are being discussed because there is a glaring absence of substantial theoretical discussion on the vital conditions and questions sited above. The answers are important because the African Diaspora in the U.S. in its totality must recapture the fervor of the days of the African Liberation Support Committees as a check and counter on the world’s most dominant power.
So, let us use the occasion of the Commemoration of the 90th Birthday of our beloved Amilcar Cabral to advance the work that must be done to achieve national liberation in Africa, the Caribbean and to the maximum degree possible in the USA. Toward that end, IBW would like convene a Pan African Symposium on the nature of national liberation in the contemporary context with the objective of continuing the analysis, discussion and debate on the key conditions and questions as outlined above. We envision this as a major substantive event and therefore would like to extend an invitation to the Cabral Foundation to partner with IBW on this undertaking with President Pedro Pires serving as the Keynote Speaker. By mutual consent, our intent would be for the Symposium to be held at Howard University, Co-Hosted by the Ralph Bunche Center and Dr. Ronald Walters Center for Public Policy. In addition to the Cabral Foundation, IBW would seek Co-Sponsorship from the Institute of Caribbean Studies, Constituency for Africa and United African Congress.
Beyond continuing a critical dialogue on the nature of national liberation in the 21st Century, it is our hope that in a very preliminary way, the Symposium would begin the process of building the transnational network of conscious clusters for national liberation discussed in this presentation.
Mr. President and fellow Speakers/Panelists, once again, we thank you for this opportunity to share ideas on such an auspicious occasion. A luta continua!
Note: Much of this essay is based on the author’s re-reading and analysis of The Weapon of Theory as it appears in Revolution in Guinea: Selected Texts by Amilcar Cabral
Dr. Ron Daniels may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org — www.ibw21.org
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